Tanzania’s hydropower ambitions thwarted by tiny toad
A rare species of toad is preventing Tanzania from opening its largest electricity project.
It looked as though the Kihansi Hydropower Project with a total capacity of 180 megawatts was the perfect solution to power-hungry Tanzania, but environmentalists and the World Bank have decided the plant cannot operate at full capacity until a solution has been found to the problem of the rare, inch-long Kihansi spray frog, which depends on waterfall spray to survive.
The Kihansi Project, consisting of three 60 megawatt hydroturbine generators, situated in the southern highlands of Tanzania, and completed in April, is vital for taking the country’s power supply to over 550 megawatts; at present national grid output varies from 225 to a little over 416 megawatts in a country of 31 million inhabitants with growing mining and tourism industries, a Tanzanian Embassy official told edie on 9 November.
However, a week earlier, the World Bank , Tanzania’s National Environmental Management Council (NEMC) and the Tanzania Electric Company (Tanesco), which operates the project, met in the capital, Dar es Salaam, to discuss the problem of protecting the toad, which scientists believe only lives in Tanzania, and which was discovered living in a tiny area at the base of Kihansi. The flow of water in the Kihansi river which feeds the dam is just enough to turn the three turbines, but scientists believe that the toad needs seven cubic meters of water per second – enough to produce 52 megawatts of electricity. When operating at full capacity the Kihansi Project would dramatically cut down on the natural spray produced by the waterfall which the toad depends on, decreasing humidity and increasing the temperature, which could be enough to lead to the amphibian’s extinction.
The NEMC is at the forefront of preservation efforts, insisting that as a signatory to the 1992 Rio Biodiversity Convention, Tanzania must preserve the toad, for which no census has yet been carried out. It is thought that relocation is the only solution, but in the meantime Tanesco is using a temporary15 megawatt artificial water spray. It remains to be seen if this is sufficient to save the toad.
There is an additional difficulty in preserving the toad in that, due to failing rains this year, Tanzania faces probable power rationing because water levels at dams have decreased dramatically. A public relations battle with the impoverished people of Tanzania looks to be a further battle, as they seem unlikely to tolerate power shortages for the sake of a one-inch creature.